In early March 1841, JS dictated a revelation directing the in to settle in , Lee County, Iowa Territory, or in other appointed gathering sites. Beginning in 1839, many members of the church settled on the side of the , in and around , while a smaller number settled in scattered communities across the river in Iowa Territory.
The precise date that JS dictated this revelation is unclear. In early March 1841 the settlement of church members in was apparently a pressing concern. , the of the Iowa , recorded in his journal that on 6 March 1841, “came over to inform me that Joseph Said it was the will of the Lord the Brethren in generally in Ambrosia Should move in and about the City with all convenient Speed which the Saints are willing to Do Because it is the word of the Lord.” A few days later, on 11 March, John Smith and two other went to , Illinois, to see JS and “to learn the will of the Lord” concerning the Saints in Iowa. According to Smith, JS stated that the Saints were “to move into the city Speedily but make large fields without [and] rais[e] grain.” It is possible that this 11 March conversation between John Smith and JS led to both the “interrogatory” and the subsequent revelation featured here. It is also possible, however, that JS had dictated the revelation earlier and that the Saints in Iowa were already acting on the commands of the revelation prior to John Smith’s meeting with JS.
recorded this revelation in the Book of the Law of the Lord sometime around or after 20 March 1841, but he did not inscribe the date of its dictation. He placed the revelation after a 20 March 1841 revelation, and it was therefore included under that date in ’s rough draft notes for JS’s multivolume manuscript history. This early March revelation was read, along with a 19 January 1841 revelation, at the April 1841 general of the church in .
According to ’s diary, JS believed the intent of the revelation was to consolidate the scattered Latter-day Saint settlements in for the sake of safety. JS even invoked the grim specter of the 1838 massacre at , Missouri, which occurred in part because Hawn’s Mill was isolated from other settlements. On 24 May 1841, JS wrote a letter in which he informed the Saints that all stakes except for those approved in and were “discontinued” and that Saints living outside of those stakes should relocate to one of the approved areas as soon as they were able. In an August 1841 church conference held in , reemphasized the revelation’s call to gather there. A “large number present agreed to move in and assist in building up Zarahemla,” as the revelation directed. By August 1841, there were 326 members living in the Zarahemla .
Zarahemla was named after a prominent settlement in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon indicates that the land and city of Zarahemla were named after a king of that same name who lived approximately two centuries before Christ. (See Book of Mormon, 1840 ed., 146–147, 221 [Omni 1:12–19; Alma 2:26].)
Ambrosia was a small Latter-day Saint settlement a few miles west of Montrose, Iowa Territory. John Smith added this supplication in his journal: “O Lord Help they people to gather out of Babylon.” (John Smith, Journal, 6 Mar. 1841.)
Elias Smith, bishop in the Nashville, Iowa Territory, settlement, noted by 16 March that the “first locations [were] made in Zarahemla by the citizens of Ambrosia.” (Elias Smith, Journal, 16 Mar. 1841.)
See Revelation, 19 Jan. 1841 [D&C 124]. According to the published minutes of the conference, “Gen. [John C.] Bennett then read the revelations from ‘The Book of the Law of the Lord,’ which had been received since the last general Conference. . . . Pres. Jos. Smith rose and made some observations in explanation of the same.” While the published account does not specifically reference the featured revelation, William Clayton’s account of the conference meeting recorded that “a short revelation was also read concerning the saints in Iowa.” (Minutes, 7–11 Apr. 1841; Clayton, Diary, 8 Apr. 1841.)
Clayton recorded: “Brother Joseph when speaking to one of the brethren on this subject says you have Haun’s Mill for a sample. Many of the brethren immediately made preparations for moving in here but on account of its being so late in the season PresidentJohn Smith advised to get through with planting and then proceed to move in.” (Clayton, Diary, 8 Apr. 1841.)
A Revelation given in the City of in answer to the following interrogatory.
What is the will of the Lord concerning the in the Territory of ?
Verily thus saith the Lord, I say unto you if those who call themselves by <my> name, and are assaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments concerning them; let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph, and build up cities unto my name, that they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come. Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite to the city of and let the name of be named upon it. And let all those who come from the east and the west, and the north and the south that have desires to dwell therein, take up their inheritances in the same, as well as in the City of or in the City of , and in all the which I have appointed saith the Lord. [p. 16]
In January, JS had instructed John Smith to “build up Nashville and put Down wickedness as fast as wisdom will Dictate.” Records of an August 1841 conference of the church in Iowa listed eighty members in Nashville at that time. (John Smith, Journal, 3 Jan. 1841; Iowa Stake, Record, 9 Aug. 1841, 103.)